Is Multi-tasking Real?

One things that people today claim they tend to be good at is multi-tasking. We do multiple things at the same time like doing homework, while binge watching The Office, texting your stats group chat about the upcoming test,  and eating a plateful of Totino’s pizza rolls. This is all done at the same time and you’re saving time on each task with it, right? Not exactly.

Image result for multi tasking

What you’re actually doing is switching between each task at a quick pace. This is a process called switch-tasking, when you switch from one task to another and back again. You’re not technically doing all those tasks at the same time. When we do multiple activities at once, we tend to make ourselves think that we’re being more productive and getting more things done in a shorter amount of time. However, this has the exact opposite effect. Since we keep switching from task to task, it eventually extends the amount of time it takes to complete all the tasks as opposed to just knocking out one task at a time. For example, you’re writing a paper while watching an episode of your favorite show. You write a few sentences in the paper and then pause to watch whats going on in the show. You realize you missed something important, so you go back a few seconds to see what it was that you missed. You’re not actually doing both things at the same and for a paper that could’ve taken an hour or two to write has now been extended to three or four and you have to start the episode you were watching over since you missed a lot of what happened while writing the paper. It would have been better to just knock out the paper first and then spend the rest of the night binge watching the show.

A test you can do yourself to see the difference in the time it takes to do two task is this:

Take a piece of paper and on two separate lines write out your full name (line one) and the numbers 1-15 (line two).Time yourself doing this. It most likely took you no more than 30 seconds. Now do the same thing but take turns writing out the letters of your name and numbers. When you timed yourself this time it probably took you longer because you had to make sure that you were spelling it correctly or that you weren’t missing a number.

So the next time you have a lot of things to do, consider knocking each thing out one at a time in order to save time.


12 thoughts on “Is Multi-tasking Real?

  1. chayes

    This is super fascinating and i enjoyed readying this. I multi-task a lot but never thought of it how you discussed. The idea with switching for task to task seems more realistic but it happens so fast and seamless that what do not even know that it is happening. We think that we are being more effective and efficient when we multi task because we are doing more things at once when in reality if we do what you said and go one by one then we will finish faster because our brain inst having to switch.

  2. blogmatt21

    I can relate to this post very well. I often find myself switch-tasking when I am on my computer studying or typing a paper at the same time as choosing music to listen to. Switch-tasking definitely makes the assignments I am working on take more time than they would if I would just focus on the task and then choose more music.

  3. lily

    This was a very cool thing to write about! I had never thought about it this way before. I “multi-task” all the time, but after reading this and thinking about it, it actually does seem to take much longer when I am doing more things at once. I’m so glad that I read this post that way next time I think about switch-tasking I can just do one thing at a time instead!

  4. sierrahorton

    Hi, I really enjoyed reading through your blog post! It’s so interesting that we use the word “multitasking” to describe a skill when, in reality, we aren’t really doing multiple things at one time like the word suggests. Instead, we are actually using “switch-tasking” as you have described. It’s so funny to think back to my first Psychology class when I learned about the limits of our attention and concentration and how differently I began to look at the way I studied, worked, and simply moved from one task to another. I like that you started your post by simply describing this misconception and how we aren’t actually doing multiple things at one time. I also found it very interesting that you brought up the topic of productivity and how doing multiple things at one time actually makes us less productive. I also really enjoyed the specific example you gave of this situation. My favorite part of your post, however, is the “do it yourself” section where you described the two tasks (writing your name and numbering a piece of paper) and gave the reader (me) the chance to see this phenomenon first-hand. I actually did it and it is mind blowing to see how much longer it takes to go back and forth and use switch-tasking, versus finishing one task at a time. I found this to be a very relatable post and I look forward to putting this new knowledge into practice when I have several assignments to do. As you suggested, I plan on completing one task at a time instead of trying to “multitask”.

  5. cgiunta

    I really enjoyed this post. The example task you gave for multi-tasking is great. Many people think they can multi-task but when put to the test, they tend to make mistakes. Sometimes I find myself trying to type, read or write while trying to listen to a professor or another student and will sometimes write what the person says instead of the notes I meant to write.

  6. sarahkrzywicki

    I loved reading your post! I find this topic very interesting, because I am the type of person who needs silences and no distractions to do my homework, but my sister works best with the tv on for background noise. I wonder if her and I were to do a little test and see who got more work done in set amount of time, if I would actually get more work done than her, because she has always been a very efficient and diligent student, and I would normally think that she would be the one who would get more work done in a shorter amount of time.

  7. angietc5

    This article caught my attention right away because I am an avid “multi- tasker” when it comes to doing my homework and watching TV. However, I am completely aware that it takes me longer to do my work when I’m not fully focused, and my work isn’t as good as it could be if I gave it my full attention. Now that you’ve scientifically proven that I can’t pride myself on my multitasking abilities, I’ll be better about giving one thing my undivided attention.

  8. mhook

    I always thought of myself as a multi-tasker, but I guess I am actually a switch-tasker! I believe that switch-tasker is a better term since we are technically going from task to task. I tend to watch/listen to lectures online while also completing other work, but now looking back I really could only focus on one task at a time, not both at once. Even thought I could technically always hear the lecture while doing another task, I wouldn’t fully understand it unless I was taking a small break from the other task.

  9. mvera

    I thought this post was really interesting and very relatable. I would have to agree that I am definitely guilty of “multi-tasking” when I do homework or study. I can see how switch-tasking can effect the amount of time it takes to complete a task like homework, especially when the two tasks you are focusing on are using the same task resources. I wonder, maybe there might not be as great of a difference in the amount of time it takes to complete a task if they are using different task resources like listening to music and folding your clothes. Overall, I’m really glad I read this post because I feel like focusing on one thing at a time in the future will help me complete tasks more effectively and efficiently.

  10. asanders

    I found this blog very fascinating. I find myself “switch-tasking” very often. After reading this blog, I can definitely see how “multi-tasking” is more time consuming then just doing one thing at a time. The examples in this blog were definitely helpful for me to realize that I need to change how I do the work I am assigned.

  11. nboigegrain

    It seems that I am a rare species, in the fact that I do not really partake in switch tasking (multitasking). I will watch TV and eat or watch a TV show or a movie and play on my phone, but when it comes to completing tasks that I take more seriously or want to do well on, I almost always focus on one task. I have always been this way and for the longest time I blamed it on my (self-diagnosed) “OCD”. I really do have a hard time leaving unfinished tasks or breaking up my routine with other tasks. It really frustrates me and I always used to believe that it was because of my possible OCD disorder. But as I gotten older and have taken some cognition related courses, I think that I am likely getting frustrated because I am a perfectionist and multitasking / switch-tasking has been proven to decrease performance levels. I believe this decrease is due to the fact that attention is a limited resource and if your divide up your attention among tasks, things are going to slip. Which is why texting and driving is such a bad, dangerous idea. I think at times I can take focusing on one thing a little too much to heart because there have been plenty of times where I have stressed myself out so much from telling myself I had to give 110% of my attention to the task at hand. I have actually done this so much that I have literally distracted myself with thinking about not distracting myself. When I do this, my performance goes down. I would love to see if the difference in performance in situations like I had just described are due to stress levels or the distraction of trying not to get distracted or if it is a combination of factors.

  12. alee9

    I know that attempting to focus on multiple stimuli at once and process them in the working-memory decreases the mental resources that can be given to either and that, as we learned in class, more closely related tasks (e.g. two exercises involving language) increase resource conflicts, but I’m curious about how universally this applies. For example, although I may be mistaken, it feels as if I’m saving time overall if I do my chores, like folding my clothes, at the same time as studying, as the chore is well-practiced and uses different parts of the brain. That said, this research would definitely apply to other habits I have, like playing chess on my phone while I write essays.

Comments are closed.